STATEMENT OFKATHERINE H. STEVENSON
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, BUSINESS SERVICES, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE,
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,
BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, FORESTS, AND PUBLIC LANDS,
COMMITTEE ON NATURAL RESOURCES,
CONCERNING H.R. 573, A BILL TO AMEND THE ACT ENTITLED
"AN ACT TO PROVIDE FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT
OF THE INDIANA DUNES NATIONAL LAKESHORE, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES"
TO CLARIFY THE AUTHORITY OF THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR
TO ACCEPT DONATIONS OF LANDS THAT ARE CONTIGUOUS
TO THE INDIANA DUNES NATIONAL LAKESHORE
June 5, 2008
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to present the Department of the Interior's views on H.R. 573, a bill to amend the act entitled "An act to provide for the establishment of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and for other purposes" to clarify the authority of the Secretary of the Interior to accept donations of lands that are contiguous to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
The Department supports enactment of this legislation only if amended in accordance with this statement. We support the clarification of the term "contiguous" land as defined in section 2; however, we oppose the authority to acquire lands by payment of delinquent taxes in section 3 for the reasons described in the statement and recommend that it be deleted from the bill.
H.R. 573 would amend Section 19 of Public Law 89-761 to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to accept donated lands that are considered contiguous to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore but physically separated from the boundary by a public or private right-of-way, such as a road, railroad, or utility corridors. It also amends Section 2(a) of the public law to authorize the Secretary to acquire lands within the boundary or contiguous to it that were delinquent in tax payments.
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore was established as a unit of the National Park System in 1966. It lies on the southern tip of Lake Michigan and covers some 15,000 acres with 15 miles of shoreline. It is visited by 2 million visitors annually. The park is segmented with numerous isolated parcels. The northern portion of Indiana is crisscrossed with numerous interstate highways, oil and gas pipeline corridors, and electrical lines. A number of these rights of way exist within the national lakeshore. Several organizations which are supportive of the national lakeshore routinely acquire lands to donate to the national lakeshore to assist in fulfilling the mission of preserving the Indiana Dunes as authorized by the U.S. Congress.
Several opportunities have arisen in which acceptance of donated land adjacent to the park but separated by utility, roadways, and rail corridors has called into question the park's ability to accept such lands in accordance with an interpretation of the minor boundary revision authority of the Land and Water Conservation Fund of 1965. Section 2 of H.R. 573 would clarify this terminology at it relates to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and allow the park to accept donated lands to further the purposes of the park unit when they adjoin the park's boundary.
This bill would authorize the NPS to acquire eligible properties by satisfaction of delinquent State or local taxes. Federal law requires that the NPS obtain an appraisal of the property to be purchased and prohibits us from making an offer to acquire the property for an amount less than the approved appraised value. In addition, the owner, or any other party, which had a vested interest in property sold through a tax sale, is entitled to a "right of redemption." This right provides the owner every reasonable opportunity to reacquire the property, provided they pay the back taxes owed and meet additional guidelines and requirements. In light of these existing authorities, Section 3 of H.R. 573 would create great uncertainty about the status of these lands and prevent the NPS from making reasonable plans for the use of these areas. We, therefore, oppose section 3 and recommend it be deleted.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to comment. This concludes my prepared remarks and I will be happy to answer any questions you or other committee members might have.